Taking a long vacation back home to the East Coast enabled me to spend lots of time exploring different facets of the "hockey world"...Montreal – Sharks game at the Bell Centre (I don’t care what they say, the Shark Tank is still louder) NYC's NHL store, a Isles - Flyers game at Nassau Coliseum, and many weekends spent in Worcester, MA acclimating myself with the AHL scene and fine tuning my new found Worcester Shark fanhood (fandom, tomatoe/tomato)...but it also meant a two month hiatus from the greatest joy I have ever known...San Jose Sharks hockey. Live San Jose Sharks hockey.
Up until I left for NY, I had only missed about 2 home games this season and it broke my heart to know I would miss more. Needless to say, now that I'm back in sunny California, I absolutely couldn't wait to haul my teal cloaked butt to HP Pavilion for Game 5. (no I didn't really wear a cloak...I think Calgary has the only fans that do that)
A meal at Teske's Germania, and I was ready to skip right through the doors of the Shark Tank, collect my (awesome) rally towel, and head down to the glass for warm ups...how I missed these boys...
I was ready to deal with whatever emotional grief the Sharks would dole out to us. I could handle it...no biggie...I'll be ok. I might cry a little, but really, it's just a game JoJo...just a game.
Yeah....try telling that to 17,495 people and getting them to agree with you...this is HOCKEY...it's not “just a game”.
With my heart already primed for a good breaking, I went down to the glass just to catch a final glimpse of the guys who have collectively succeeded in making me fall in love with hockey…and as they skated out on to the ice, I was completely amazed. I didn’t think it was possible to love these guys any more than I already did, but butter my butt and call me a biscuit, was I wrong! As they emerged from the hallway to the locker room they brought with them a piece of my heart. A piece I didn’t even know that they still had…and all at once my outlook changed.
As they lined up along the glass where I stood - Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Thornton – the looks on their faces let us all know that they were glad to be home…and as I glanced around the glass, at the signs and banners that fellow fans made, it was so evident how much faith everyone still had in this team…and the buzz was one of determination. They gave us these towels to wave, right? Not to throw in.
As I walked the concourse, the optimism was absolutely infectious…and no matter how negative my mind tried to be, the never-say-die spirit of the Shark Tank and my fellow Shark fans kept any negativity at bay and instead replaced it with ridiculously silly grins plastered on just about anyone you saw…(with the exception of the few mangy Duck fans roaming around aimlessly who were undoubtedly scared for their lives)
When the fans took their seats and the pre-game video opener began, the electricity kicked on. The Tank was rocking…and when the Sharks came down the hallway in customary fashion, well, I guess that’s when you really could see the heartbeat of the fans. Rally towels in hand, the crowd was unified as one living and breathing thing. The seventh man…and to look out onto the crowd, you could see it. You could see the heartbeat pulsating. This was playoff hockey.
When it came to the game, there’s not much I can tell you that you haven’t read anywhere else. Everyone knows who played well, who didn’t. The Sharks first 20 minutes was what every fan wanted to see. It was the second 20 and third 20 that slowly wore on our nerves…they couldn’t make it an easy win. They couldn’t put any of us at ease for a solid 10 minutes…no, that’s not how the Sharks do it. The Sharks seem to respond when their backs are against the wall. I’d say that a game 5 when you’re down in the series would qualify for that…but to let it go into over time? I swear if I were ever going to hit the bottle, that would have been the time.
Patrick Marleau seems to enjoy the eleventh hour. That’s when he does his best work…or at least he did this game. The countless games that called upon Captain Pat to bail the team out were merely preparation for what he would be called to do in the playoffs…and he earned the right to be called “our hero”.
When the red lights lit up…the crowd literally exploded…in what seemed like slow motion. The roar was absolutely deafening. The Bell Centre’s volume would pale in comparison. Not only had most Shark fans gladly lost their voices that night but I think we also lost part of our hearing.
The celebration carried over into the concourse as everyone (uncharacteristically) took their time exiting for the sake of continuing chants, high fiving each other, screaming, dancing and generally experiencing a little known thing called “joy”. Sharkie even jumped up onto a concession stand and started beating his drum. Everyone gathered around and egged him on…and the one thing that you saw no matter where you looked was that smile…that million dollar megawatt smile. It was on every single fan’s face. From the youngest little ones to the ones with the silver hair and numerous pins (yeah I don’t really get that)…we were all united in that win. We all celebrated our heroes…and we all were grateful that we got to live another day…reminded that there is a reason that this team finished as number one…reminded that there is a reason we love this team so much.
Now…on to Game Six…where’s that flask?